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By AW, member of Dignity/San Francisco

I remember sometime back when the government started to push for 'affirmative action.’ At that time quotas were rampant everywhere. Each school, company, and business had to comply with 'affirmative action.'

Schools had to make sure that a percentage of their population, students or employees, were minorities. Work places had even more pressure to comply with these requirements and a short time to do so, unless they were willing to pay fines or face other problems.

At the time I used to joke with my friends saying, "An employer should be glad to hire me. After all, I would help to fill their quotas. I count for three minorities: Latino, Asian, and gay!" All of us would laugh. The laughter often would hide the pain that the labels had implemented in my life.

Growing up I found that often the Latino community would consider me Asian, while the Asian community would think of me as Latino. I felt that I did not belong anywhere.

Perhaps my parents sensed this loneliness, so they made sure that my brothers and I would excel in school. They instilled in us the importance of an education; educated persons were always respected.

They also made sure that we would know of the accomplishments of the previous generations in our family. We also learned of the proud heritage and traditions of our ancestors and our races, both the Latino and the Asian. It was great knowing all this, however listening to the jokes that kids would tell was a reminder of not belonging. Many times my friends were not aware of the pain that these jokes caused; they just thought that they were funny.

Religious education was an important part of our upbringing, even though our parents were not regular churchgoers. We went to a Catholic school. We also received regular Catechism classes on Sundays before or after Mass. I loved the Church. The Church's bells, smells, and stories of the saints were very important in my early life.

When puberty hit and hormones were raging, I soon realized that they were pointing the wrong direction, not in the direction that society and the Church were expecting. I was attracted to my own sex.

The realization of being sexually different brought real panic in my life.

The male child of a Latino family carries a lot of expectations. The same expectations, or perhaps even heavier, are carried by the Asian male child. Mixing both cultures together, the expectations become monumental.

Both cultures, Latino and Asian, expect the male child to procreate, making sure that the family surname survives. It is also necessary that the child brings the wife home to help take care of the parents as they grow older. Often this expectation is extended to the care of other older generations that might live in the same household.

To deviate from the expectation of both cultures carries a very heavy and destructive price to pay.

Latinos are often known as a ‘macho’ culture, where the males have supremacy and are expected to enjoy this supremacy. The man is expected to marry, but at the same time has the expectation to have fun outside his marriage. Often these adventures are admired by his friends.

Asian culture is very conscious of the family honor and often will go to extremes to save face and save that honor. A child that is different or strays from the norm is a disgrace to the family.

Neither culture has much tolerance for deviation from the norm when it comes to sexuality. The comments and name calling are often crude and demeaning when the conversation turns to the subject of homosexuality.

The Church also added more negative adjectives to the ones already existing between the two cultures.

In the Catholic School I attended in my early teens, one of my classmates had an affair with an older boy in the school. Somehow, the secret got out and this classmate was tormented by the other boys. One of the teachers even requested special prayers because someone in school was doing “something very wrong” and needed all our prayers. While I envied him because he was so accepting of his sexuality, I was afraid that the boys in my class would also turn against me if they know of my sexuality.

In the same school, one of the priests in confession was less than pastoral, confirming once again the displeasure of the Church about my sexuality. I was convinced that I was going directly to hell.

Growing up, I started to venture into the gay world, only to find that once more I was an outsider because of my heritage. This world is made up mostly of white, high middle class males, and was not necessarily inviting to women or racial minorities.

Of course, there are ‘rice queens’ and others that are attracted to the ‘dark meat’, just as a person is attracted to a dish that they have not tasted before. That is someone from the circle reaching out to someone for fun, not with the intention of bringing someone in.

Most of my life I have been in the outer circles, and the cold welcome into the gay world was one more reminder that I did not belong. The old negative tapes running in my head from my faith and my heritage, just got a little louder.

Finally after a bad break up in a relationship and one too many upsets with the Church, I decided to leave. I just could not take it any longer.

Sometime after, a friend literally dragged me to Dignity; even with my initial reluctance to attend the service with him, I was pleasantly surprised. It was the liturgy I was so familiar with, but with a twist. The priest in his homily was talking of a forgiving God that created us the way we were. He also said that our sexuality was a gift from God. The seed was planted in my heart.

It was friends from Dignity that took me to Cursillo. It is a three day, intense retreat led by lay persons with the help of two clergy persons. Cursillo teaches that God’s love is unconditional. That God does not look at color, gender, or sexual orientation, and that all you need to receive God’s love is to open your heart. I had come home.

Today I try hard to reach out for those that feel outside of the circle to try to bring them in. I try to let them know that they are loved because God’s love is unconditional.

My sexual orientation, the color of my skin, my heritage might keep me outside of some circles but it is no longer important. Today I know that I am in God’s inner circle and that is all that matters…